Sermon Preached at Grace Community Church (EPC)
Sun City Grand, Surprise, AZ
Sunday, March 4, 2018
by the Reverend Cooper McWhirter
I Am Who I Am: “The Resurrection and the Life” [Part Five]
Of the seven miracles recorded in John’s gospel, the raising of Lazarus is unquestionably the most emotionally-charged account in the New Testament. Jesus wept unashamedly for Martha and Mary’s loss of their beloved brother, Lazarus. In verse 5, John writes: “The Lord loved them deeply.”
One Bible scholar remarked: “The raising of Lazarus was the capstone of Jesus’ public ministry.” This was His last recorded miracle, except for that of His own bodily resurrection.
Both Martha and Mary questioned the Lord’s timing. They even rehearsed what they would say to Him upon His arrival. Each sister said verbatim: “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.”
But, haven’t we all questioned the Lord’s timing? I certainly have! We ask ourselves, “Why does He tarry so?” A seasoned believer offered this piece of advice: “We must learn to respect the mystery of God’s providence.” Regardless of our circumstances, we must understand that God, and God alone, knows what’s best for us.
In this account, we discover new insights; not only about our Lord, but ourselves as well. For example, we come to understand that: GOD’S TIMING IS INFINITELY PERFECT (repeat).
You’ve heard it said, “Timing is everything!” Whether in good times, or when heartache and sorrow visit us, the Lord is here to comfort and to sustain us. But why must we experience pain and suffering? A wise man once said, “You cannot appreciate a mountaintop experience until you’ve walked in the valley below.”
When Jesus and His disciples finally arrived in Bethany, four days had passed since His friend had been entombed. By this time Lazarus’ body would have undergone decomposition. The Lord deliberately delayed His departure from the other side of the Jordan. But the question remains, “Why?”
The best answer. Indeed, the only answer, is that it served a worthwhile purpose. A teaching moment as it were. A learning lesson; not only for Lazarus’ two sisters, and His disciples, but for us as well. Before their departure, Jesus told His disciples [that]: “Lazarus was dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe…” What did He mean by this? If Jesus had been present during Lazarus’ illness, He would have been obliged to heal him, then and there. However, there were other occasions when Jesus healed someone while not being present [e.g., the royal official’s son – Matthew 9:43-54; the Centurion’s slave – Luke 7:1-10].
No, Jesus’ delay was to prove a point. One, which we so often take for granted. To believe unequivocally in something, or in someone, without relying on our human senses, reinforces our faith. It strengthens our resolve.
Saint Augustine said: “Faith is to believe what we do not see; and the reward of faith is to see what we do believe.” The apostle Paul aptly put it this way: “We walk by faith; not by sight” [2 Corinthians 5:7].
This past week, the pastors and elders interviewed our newest inductees. It was a privilege to hear their testimonies about what Christ has done, and is doing, in their respective lives. Some cited life-altering, life-changing, experiences which served to bolster their confidence in God.
Just as it did on this occasion so long ago. A time when: BOTH SISTERS QUESTIONED JESUS’ TIMING (repeat).
Bernie Siegel, a retired pediatric surgeon, has authored several books concerning the relationship between patient and the healing process. He wrote: “Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.” Such a clever ruse to dispel any notion that God can ever be anonymous. As our Creator, God divinely intercedes in the affairs of mankind; whether we realize it or not! Put simply, God is NOT standoffish! God hears our mournful cries. Why, He even records our every tear drop [Malachi 3; Psalm 57]!
Yes, both sisters questioned Jesus’ timing, but as they were about to discover, His timing is impeccable! Notice the exchange between Martha and her Lord. As if in a tone of resignation, Martha sighed: “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” But then in the same breath, she exclaims: “But even now I know that whatever You ask from God, God will give You.”
Was Martha contemplating that Jesus could turn back ‘the hands of time’?
A kind of ‘time warp’? Now, this may seem far-fetched, like something out of a science fiction novel. Yet, the Bible records an incident when Joshua prayed to the Lord for time to literally stand still. “And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed” [Joshua 10:13].
Continuing their discourse, Jesus then said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” To which she replied, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
Bodily resurrection was not a foreign concept in Old Testament writings. Both Elijah and Elisha were used of God in just this way. Then, too, Job spoke of his hope of the resurrection from the dead; as did David in his psalms. But raising someone from the dead after being entombed for so long a time was beyond comprehension!
Questioning God’s timing is all too common for both believers and non-believers. We say to ourselves, “I would have acted differently.” It reminds me of those lyrics, “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread”? But, for the faint-hearted, be mindful of this: “When you’re experiencing difficulties, and you’re wondering where God is; remember the teacher is always quiet during the test.” God may not always make His appearance known. Nevertheless, He is ever-present and always watchful!
In the final analysis, life here on earth affords only our ‘temporary billeting’. Think of it as a ‘testing ground’! Because the results of our final exam have yet been graded. Oh, my, how I hated taking those laborious exams! I dare say, if grades were based solely upon a student’s perspiration, I would have been valedictorian of my class!
But like that of a kind, considerate Teacher, our Lord was not through with His pupils, Martha and Mary. And that’s because: JESUS’ RESPONSE IS ALWAYS TIMELY (repeat).
After Martha acknowledged her belief in the resurrection, Jesus made this startling declaration: “I Am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.”
I’ve tried to envision how Jesus made this declarative truth. Did He perhaps lean over and whisper these words in her ear? But, whether Jesus spoke softly, or shouted it from the rooftops, her reaction would have been the same. Hers was a look of astonishment…rather than disbelief!
In no uncertain terms, Jesus reminds us that the first death, physical death, is ‘a given’. It comes to us all. There’s no magic potent, or an elixir which can change the inevitable. However, the other death, the second death, can be avoided!
In Matthew’s narrative, the Lord told His disciples: “…do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear Him (God) who can destroy both soul and body in hell” [Matthew 10:28]. After Jesus’ declarative statement, Martha exclaims: “Yes, Lord; I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, He who is coming into the world.”
Although Jesus had been a frequent guest in their home, this might have been the first time where Martha expressed her abiding faith in Jesus. Remember, this exchange takes place before her brother was raised from the dead, which makes her affirmation of faith so remarkable!
This passage evokes so many emotions: pain, grief, being separated from loved ones. But, it also expresses love and compassion. C. S. Lewis, in his book, A Grief Observed, wrote about the pain and sorrow he suffered with the death of his wife, Joy Davidman. Although their marriage was brief, only spanning four years, these became the happiest years of Lewis’ life. His book was made into a movie called, “Shadow-lands”.
At the end of the movie, Lewis scribed these words on the movie screen: “Why love, if losing hurts so much? I have no answers, only the life I have lived. Twice in my life I was given the choice; as a boy and as a man. The boy chose safety. The man chose suffering. The pain now is part of the happiness then.”
One of our fellow residents here on earth made this observation: “Grief never ends…but it changes. It’s a passage, not a place to stay. Grief is not a sign of weakness, nor a lack of faith…it is the price of love.”
Fellow believers, love requires us to become…vulnerable. Pain, suffering and loss are inevitable consequences of our willingness to love someone else. However, what you have lost here on earth will be regained in the life to come. From the lips of our Lord did He not say: “I Am the Resurrection and the Life and whoever believes in Me shall never die.” Live it! Believe it!
Let us pray…
Sermon Preached at Grace Community Church (EPC)